ATI Radeon 9800 XT 256MB Review

ATI Radeon 9800 XT 256MB

“The ATI 9800XT is a blazing fast graphics card that smokes the current competition.”
  • Blazing fast frame rates
  • excellent image quality and solid drivers
  • Faster cards are on the horizon and it may be worth waiting before making your purchase

Summary

The ATI Radeon 9800XT brings speed and stability to older favorites as well as the newest gaming titles. At a current price of $400 or more, the card might be too expensive for most users to consider, but as is often the case with computer hardware, today’s king of the hill is in tomorrow’s bargain bin. This may very well be what we see with the 9800XT in the next few weeks. The price for the 9800XT certainly will be reduced in the coming weeks with the release of a new generation of graphics cards, although how much we can’t be sure.

If you are in the market for a high-end graphics card, we suggest you don’t make a decision for a few weeks. Take a look at the prices of the next generation of ATI and NVIDIA processors, and how they perform compared to the 9800XT. They most certainly will be an exponential improvement over the 9800XT, but with a price perhaps more than $100 cheaper than the latest and greatest, the 9800XT just might be the best buy. As it currently stands, the ATI 9800XT is a blazing fast graphics card that smokes the current competition.

Introduction

Unless you’re just hearing about the ATI Radeon 9800XT for the first time now, you probably know that this video card is the current reigning champion of graphics processors. However, this is about to change.

Both ATI and NVIDIA have recently announced video cards with specs that will blow away the performance of the Radeon 9800XT and battle for the crown of the graphics card king. While these new graphics cards will retail at or around $400 and $500, prices for the older generation of cards will go down. The Radeon 9800XT is still at or above $400, but in a few weeks you’ll see that price start to plummet. If you’re not ready at that time to splurge on a $500 video card, the 9800XT might turn out to be a good bargain.

Performance

Benchmarks provided by Douglas Hall, staff writer:

3dMark benchmarks
Splinter Cell Benchmarks
Unreal Tournament 2003
Gun Metal

Features and Design

For the most part, the Radeon 9800XT looks a lot like other ATI graphics cards with the red printed circuit board and a VGA, S-Video and Digital output. The one item that stands out visually is the heatsink. Unlike the ATI Radeon 9800 Pro, where the heatsink only covers the graphics processor, the 9800XT’s heatsink covers the processor and the RAM, on both the top and the bottom of the PCB. And where the Radeon9800 Pro has an aluminum heatsink, this one is all copper. This big heatsink really gives the Radeon9800 some heft, making it weigh in at around four pounds.

Typical of ATI’s Radeon family of products, the 9800XT comes with the standard cables and connectors. Included is a S-Video cable, a composite cable and a digital to analog converter. Since the 9800XT has an onboard molex connector for its own power, ATI has also included a Y-splitter in case you don’t have an extra molex connection in your computer. As has been the case for the last few months, ATI also includes a coupon redeemable for a free copy of Half-Life 2, the highly anticipated and often delayed first person shooter. The game has been so delayed though, that when it actually does come out, the 9800XT might not be able to handle it as well as ATI had originally planned.

As usual, the retail box also comes with a product manual and driver CD, however, we always suggest you download the latest drivers from ATI’s Website anyway.

The Radeon 9800XT is based on the R360 graphics core, a .15 micron core that runs at 412MHz. The same Samsung 2.8 nanosecond memory modules that we saw on the 9800 Pro are also found on the 9800XT.

Use and testing

Fast-paced, high action gaming is where this video card excels and often dominates most of the competition. It can handle all of today’s current games with aggressive settings and is well-suited to handle future titles. This is where the Radeon 9800XT will become such a great buy when ATIs Radeon X800 and NVIDIA’s GeForce 6800 start shipping in the next few weeks.

While today’s graphics-intensive games such as Far Cry certainly will benefit from the increased performance of the Radeon X800 and the GeForce 6800, the 9800XT will easily handle all but the most aggressive visual settings. In many older games, you probably won’t see much of a difference between the Radeon 9800XT and the next generation cards. It’s the upcoming games that we’re not sure about yet. While the 9800XT can handle anything we throw at it now, when Doom 3 or Half-Life 2 comes out, they just might be too much for this card to handle at some of the highest visual and performance settings.

Over clocking this particular card was easy and we used our standard favorite utility Rage3D video card tweaker which recognized the chipset and worked very well. Default settings for the ATI RADEON 9800XT were preset and recognized at GPU core 411.75 MHz and memory was set at 364.5 MHz at start up. The driver we used was ATI’s Catalyst version 3.8.

Conclusion

The ATI Radeon 9800XT brings speed and stability to older favorites as well as the newest gaming titles. At a current price of $400 or more, the card might be too expensive for most users to consider, but as is often the case with computer hardware, today’s king of the hill is in tomorrow’s bargain bin. This may very well be what we see with the 9800XT in the next few weeks. The price for the 9800XT certainly will be reduced in the coming weeks with the release of a new generation of graphics cards, although how much we can’t be sure.

If you are in the market for a high-end graphics card, we suggest you don’t make a decision for a few weeks. Take a look at the prices of the next generation of ATI and NVIDIA processors, and how they perform compared to the 9800XT. They most certainly will be an exponential improvement over the 9800XT, but with a price perhaps more than $100 cheaper than the latest and greatest, the 9800XT just might be the best buy. As it currently stands, the ATI 9800XT is a blazing fast graphics card that smokes the current competition.

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